The drugs ban imposed this week on a Salford City player is just the latest example of a footballer – just as athletes do in a range of other sports, and have done down the years – trying to improve performance in any way he can. Here’s one of the stranger episodses from back in the day...
Briefly, in the 1930s, the Monkey Glands Affair was the talk of football and gave great prominence to the man most closely associated with it, Major Frank Buckley.
Buckley is someone whose name may largely have disappeared into the mists of long ago but he was a substantial figure in football’s postwar development.
Player after player mentioned his name to me when I was writing When Footballers Were Skint. Not all liked him, quite the reverse in some cases, but the impression that emerged was of a character who would have stamped his personality and ideas on whatever profession he had chosen in whatever era.
Buckley was born in Urmston, Lancashire, in1882. Photographs of him in middle age show a strong face with a slightly wry expression. A physiognomist would almost certainly have concentrated on the well-set chin. Had he been a Hollywood actor in the 1940s and ’50s he would have been much in demand as a gunslinger. Gary Cooper might not have got the High Noon part.
As a player he represented a number of clubs and was almost as ubiquitous as a manager. His seven clubs included Norwich City, Notts County and Leeds United, but it was during 17 years at Wolverhampton Wanderers, 1927-44, that he made his name as the most innovative manager of his time. Some of his ideas and methods survive to this day.
It was Buckley who came up with numbering on shirts, the first structured scouting system and developed a youth policy complete with a nursery club in Yorkshire, Wath Wanderers.
His attention to preparing players for matches was also revolutionary.
Coaching hardly existed before the Second World War and sports psychology was a distant whisper. Buckley engaged with both. In particular, he was at the forefront of introducing routines with a wider purpose than simply keeping players fit.
For a start he challenged the quaint notion that practising with a ball was unnecessary because players saw quite enough of it on Saturday afternoons. Buckley put practice matches at the centre of his coaching and demanded a direct style of play rather than excessive elaboration.
He developed a contraption that shot out balls in no particular pattern to sharpen players’ close control and stressed the importance of being able to kick with either foot. He even encouraged players to do ballroom dancing to improve their poise and balance.
He also introduced rowing machines so that fitness sessions were not simply a case of running up and down the stadium terracing.
But the thing about him that really caught the public imagination was whether he did or didn’t experiment with the use of monkey glands.
The story went that Buckley was persuaded that monkey-gland implantations – a technique pioneered by Serge Voronoff, a French surgeon of Russian extraction – helped with stamina levels, recovery and improved mental performance. It was said that Buckley had them tried on himself and the Wolves players.
For a while the football world was abuzz with the possible advantages conferred by these glands. The fact that celebrities such as the playwright Noel Coward and the author Somerset Maugham were entertaining this treatment as a possible life enhancer gives some credence to the likelihood that Buckley was experimenting with it, too.
Nothing was conclusively proved, though, and after Wolves lost by three goals to Portsmouth in the 1939 FA Cup final – sometimes referred to as the Monkey Glands Final because Portsmouth were also said to be sampling the treatment – the whole episode was consigned to being one of Buckley’s more bonkers ideas.
The Scottish footballer Johnny Paton, who as a youngster was offered a trial by Buckey at Wolves, remembered all the talk about monkey glands. Paton, whose clubs included Celtic, Chelsea and Brentford, said: ‘The idea was that these young players of Major Buckley’s would run Portsmouth off the field. But Pompey had a lot of older players and Wolves got beat 4-1. That burst the bubble of thinking you could win anything with young players.’
Roy Wood, a goalkeeper who played for Buckley at Leeds, was also familiar with the rumours about Buckley’s plans ‘to plant monkey glands into footballers to give them a boost’ but he was never offered anything remotely exotic.